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Reciprocity of Liking —1333
See also Communal Relationships; Equity Theory;
Evolutionary Psychology and Human Relationships;
Exchange Orientation; Norms About Relationships;
Further Readings
Clark, M. S., & Mills, J. (1979). Interpersonal attraction
in exchange and communal relationships. Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 12–24.
Gouldner, A. W. (1960). The norm of reciprocity: A
preliminary statement. American Sociological Review,
25, 161–178.
Haig, D. (2003). On intrapersonal reciprocity. Evolution
and Human Behavior, 24, 418–425.
Trivers, R. (1971). The evolution of reciprocal altruism.
Quarterly Review of Biology, 46, 35–57.
Walster, E., Berscheid, E., & Walster, G. W. (1973). New
directions in equity research. Journal of Personality
and Social Psychology, 25, 151–176.
Reciprocity is a central feature of human relationships. The ethic of reciprocity is espoused by
nearly every major religion, and human culture
would grind to a halt if people did not routinely
exchange goods, services, and other benefits with
one another. Reciprocity of liking (also called
reciprocity of attraction or reciprocal liking) is a
particular type of reciprocity that refers to the
tendency for people to like others who express liking for them. Reciprocity of liking is a key principle of attraction; at times, it has even been called
a cultural truism. This entry reviews research and
theory about reciprocity of liking.
Theoretical Explanations
Many major social-psychological theories predict
the emergence of reciprocity of liking. When our
interaction partners like us, they treat us in ways
that maximize our rewards and minimize our
costs. Interdependence Theory predicts that we
will like people with whom we have such gratifying interactions. Indeed, the simple fact that
another person likes the self is rewarding because
it validates that the self has likable qualities. In
addition, people who like us often want to continue interacting with us in the future. Therefore,
they may reward us by providing costly support in
times of need, assuming that we ourselves might
later reciprocate the support. In this sense, liking
and helping are linked, and social exchange theorists suggest that, because individuals tend to
reciprocate helping behaviors, this tendency should
extend to the reciprocation of other benefits such
as liking.
Balance theory, which emphasizes people’s
desire to maintain a cognitively consistent state,
also predicts the emergence of reciprocity, at least
for people who like themselves. That is, cognitive
consistency is achieved when self-likers like those
who like them. Intriguingly, cognitive consistency
is also achieved when self-dislikers like people who
dislike them. Reciprocal liking should therefore
be less pronounced for individuals with low selfesteem, and, in fact, some evidence for this prediction has been found among married couples.
Finally, when someone likes us, it signals his or
her willingness to provide care and support;
Attachment Theory predicts that we will like such
supportive individuals and provide care and support for them in turn. There is no shortage of theoretical explanations for the existence of reciprocity
of liking.
Experimental Evidence
Researchers have tackled two central empirical
questions regarding reciprocity of liking. The first
question is causal: If A expresses liking for B, does
this cause B’s liking for A to increase? Psychologists
first derived support for this prediction almost
half a century ago. In an initial study, participants
were led to believe in advance of a group discussion that certain members of the group (chosen at
random by the experimenter) would probably like
them. After the discussion, participants expressed
more liking for the group members who they
believed liked them. Other research found evidence for this causal pathway using the bogus
stranger paradigm, in which participants did not
meet face to face, but instead viewed questionnaire responses from another “participant.”
Participants’ liking for such an unknown stranger
correlates positively with the amount of liking the
Reciprocity of Liking
stranger expresses for the participant on the questionnaire. In addition, the more attractive the
stranger is, the greater the impact that stranger’s
liking has on participants’ reciprocated desire.
That is, when we find out that an attractive person likes us, we are especially likely to reciprocate
that liking. Finally, there is also evidence that likers (i.e., people who like others, in general) are
themselves well liked by participants. In studies in
which targets express liking for many other individuals (e.g., politicians, cafeteria workers), participants tend to like those targets more than
targets who express liking for few other individuals. In general, the experimental data support the
prediction that liking causes liking: We do indeed
like people more when we learn or infer that they
might like us.
In romantic contexts, the possibility of not
being liked is often especially salient. People are
loath to risk romantic rejection, and experimental
research has found that people are reluctant to
initiate romantic overtures without some indication that the desired other might like them in
return. For example, some evidence suggests that a
small proportion of men (3 percent) would be willing to ask a woman who they desired out on a date
if she had not indicated any interest in him. In a
classic study conducted by Ted Huston, men who
did not know for sure that an attractive woman
would say “yes” to a date with him were less willing to risk asking her out (compared with men
who were assured acceptance). For many people,
some evidence of reciprocal liking is a critical precursor to initiating any overt romantic gesture.
Reciprocal Liking in Natural Social Contexts
There is a second empirical question regarding
reciprocity of liking: Do the people we like in the
course of our everyday lives tend to like us as
well? As it happens, many early studies found that
such reciprocity correlations (A’s liking for B correlated with B’s liking for A) were surprisingly
low, often near zero. Reciprocity correlations did
appear to be larger for participants who had
known each another for a longer (compared with
a shorter) period of time, but even in these cases,
the correlations were small to moderate in magnitude. Adding to the confusion was the abundant
evidence that participants overwhelmingly assume
reciprocity. That is, people tend to believe on average that their liking for someone is reciprocated,
and many studies that professed to offer evidence
for reciprocal liking used designs that offered
strong evidence for assumed reciprocity, but little
evidence for actual reciprocity of liking.
David Kenny, in developing the social relations
model in the early 1980s, offered an explanation
for the low naturally occurring reciprocity correlations. He noted that a simple correlation between
A’s liking for B and B’s liking for A actually confounds two different kinds of reciprocity. The first
is called generalized reciprocity: If A tends to like
everyone on average, is A well-liked in return? In
other words, there are individual differences in the
tendency to like and to be liked, and these individual differences could be correlated and would
therefore influence a simple reciprocity correlation.
The second is called dyadic reciprocity: If A
uniquely likes B (above and beyond A’s tendency to
like everyone and B’s tendency to be liked by everyone), does B uniquely like A? When these two types
of reciprocity are examined separately, the data
typically reveal rather weak generalized reciprocity
correlations, but strong dyadic reciprocity correlations. That is, there is only a weak tendency for
likers to be well-liked (which contrasts somewhat
with the experimental evidence described earlier),
but people’s unique liking for each other is likely to
be reciprocated. Furthermore, it is the dyadic reciprocity correlation in particular that increases with
the length of the relationship. When researchers
calculated the simple correlation between participants’ liking for each other, this procedure inadvertently combined a strong dyadic correlation with a
weak generalized correlation. Once individual differences in people’s tendency to like and be liked
are separated from the unique liking that people
experience for one another, we do find evidence for
a healthy amount of (dyadic) reciprocity in people’s
naturally occurring relationships.
To separate generalized from dyadic reciprocity
using the Social Relations Model, researchers must
employ an intensive design in which participants
report their liking for many other participants and
are reported on many times. Until recently, all such
studies had examined platonic liking; there were
no data on naturally occurring reciprocity of
romantic liking. However, with the advent of
Reciprocity of Liking —1335
speed dating and its emergence as a research
method, scholars could now use the Social Relations
Model to examine romantic reciprocity. Speed dating employs a design in which romantically available individuals meet one another on brief dates
and decide whom they would or would not be
interested in meeting again. One recent speed-dating study found evidence for dyadic reciprocity:
Even after a brief 4-minute date, speed daters’
unique romantic liking for one another tended to
be reciprocated. Curiously, generalized reciprocity
in this study turned out to be negative, indicating
that participants who experienced strong romantic
liking for the other speed daters on average were
not well-liked. These data suggest that, within
the romantic domain, only selective liking is reciprocated, whereas unselective liking is actually not
Finally, there is also evidence that reciprocal liking stands out for participants in their memories of
falling-in-love experiences. People often report that
they learned that another person romantically
desired them shortly before developing affectionate
feelings in return. In fact, reciprocal liking plays a
more prominent role in people’s falling-in-love
memories than any single other variable, including
similarity and the presence of desired characteristics (e.g., good looks, appealing personality) in the
partner. Reciprocal liking also plays a prominent
role in participants’ memories of falling in friendship, although it is typically more pronounced in
falling-in-love experiences. Athough romantic liking may only be reciprocated when it is selective, as
discussed earlier, it still seems to be a critical ingredient in sparking many, if not most, romances.
Desire for Reciprocal Liking
Reciprocal liking is one of the central principles of
attraction, along with similarity, familiarity, proximity, and physical attractiveness. (Of course, this­­
is not to say that reciprocity is unimportant as
­relationships mature. As mentioned earlier, dyadic
reciprocal liking becomes stronger as relationship
length increases, and couples that reciprocate negative affect are more likely to experience relationship
dissatisfaction and dissolution.) But in the domain
of initial romantic attraction, reciprocal liking
exhibits a curious feature: People’s perceptions of
reciprocal liking can fluctuate dramatically, even
from one moment to the next, especially during the
early stages of a potential romantic relationship. In
other words, just minutes after a desired romantic
partner signals that he or she might like us (e.g., by
returning a phone call), the same desired partner
could then signal that he or she might not like us
after all (e.g., by ending the conversation abruptly).
The other principles of attraction, such as physical
attractiveness or proximity, probably only rarely
fluctuate to such a degree.
Perhaps for this reason, people often exhibit an
intense desire for reciprocal liking in developing
romances. In her research on limerence (a term
roughly synonymous with high levels of passionate love or infatuation), Dorothy Tennov determined that a central part of the falling-in-love
experience is the yearning for one’s affections to be
reciprocated. People who are infatuated with a
desired partner frequently engage in fantasies
where the partner professes his or her love in
return. In fact, in many cases, sexual contact is not
the ultimate object of infatuated individuals’
desires; instead, they fantasize about the reciprocation of affection that will alleviate any concerns
that their love is unrequited and lead to an
­emotional union with the love object. The desire
for reciprocity can be a consuming experience for
infatuated individuals because they may frequently
spend time replaying interactions with the desired
partner in their minds, sifting for evidence of
reciprocation. After all, reciprocal liking brings
great rewards in this context, but because it can
also prove ephemeral, it is frequently a source of
considerable rumination for infatuated individuals. For infatuated individuals’ emotional euphoria
to be achieved, the reciprocity needs to be exclusive; that is, the infatuated individual also must
find evidence that he or she is selectively desired by
the love object. As reviewed previously, selectivity
is a central component of reciprocal liking within
the first few minutes of romantic encounters; its
role may well intensify as an initial encounter
grows into a full-blown infatuation.
Paul W. Eastwick and Eli J. Finkel
See also Bogus Stranger Paradigm; Infatuation; Initiation
of Relationships; Interpersonal Attraction; Love,
Unreciprocated; Reciprocity, Norm of; Social
Relations Model; Speed Dating
Further Readings
Aron, A., Dutton, D. G., Aron, E. N., & Iverson, A.
(1989). Experiences of falling in love. Journal of
Social and Personal Relationships, 6, 243–257.
Backman, C. W., & Secord, P. F. (1959). The effect of
liking on interpersonal attraction. Human Relations,
12, 379–384.
Eastwick, P. W., Finkel, E. J., Mochon, D., & Ariely, D.
(2007). Selective versus unselective romantic desire:
Not all reciprocity is created equal. Psychological
Science, 18, 317–319.
Huston, T. L. (1973). Ambiguity of acceptance, social
desirability, and dating choice. Journal of
Experimental Social Psychology, 9, 32–42.
Kenny, D. A. (1994). Interpersonal perception: A social
relations analysis. New York: Guilford Press.
Newcomb, T. M. (1961). The acquaintance process.
New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.
Tennov, D. (1979). Love and limerence. New York: Stein
and Day.
Rejection refers to being dumped, left out,
snubbed, or otherwise made to feel excluded.
People feel rejected when they are made to feel
that they do not belong in a relationship or to a
group. Rejection tends to have negative effects on
behaviors, thoughts, and emotions. When people
who are rejected feel that they are able to connect
with others, the negative effects of rejection usually are eliminated. This entry discusses how
rejection thwarts a fundamental need for relationships, summarizes different types of rejection
people experience inside and outside of the laboratory, and examines the effects of rejection—
both positive and negative—on behavior, thoughts,
and emotions.
Rejection Thwarts a Fundamental Need
Most psychologists agree that people are motivated to have positive and durable relationships
with other people. Roy Baumeister and Mark
Leary refer to this motivation as a “need to
belong” and suggest that it is among the strongest
and most basic of all human needs. From this perspective, people naturally try to think, feel, and
act in ways that will earn them social acceptance
and avoid rejection. Rejection thwarts the need to
belong. As such, the consequences of rejection are
consistent, strong, and mostly negative.
Rejection Inside and
Outside of the Laboratory
Rejection is a common experience. People experience divorce, romantic breakups, or show romantic
interest in another person only to have their romantic advances rebuffed. Some people seek membership
in college fraternities and sororities, only to be told
that they are not wanted. Children are left out of
games on the playground, or they are told that they
cannot sit by a person on the school bus. Rejection
is a common theme in television and movies. Most
reality television shows involve some sort of rejection. Some reality television shows involve contestants being voted off an island, whereas others
involve contestants experiencing eviction from an
apartment or house for various reasons. These
examples provide at least some suggestion that rejection is a familiar experience for most people.
Psychologists use a variety of methods to study
the effects of rejection. The methods psychologists
use to understand rejection involve exposing people to situations that are considerably milder than
the types of rejection people experience outside the
laboratory (e.g., divorce, breakups), mostly because
it would be unethical to expose people to those
types of events for the purpose of research.
Although laboratory manipulations often involve
vague or impersonal experiences of rejection, the
effects of these manipulations are quite strong.
Listed next are the five most common methods
psychologists use to study rejection. In each
method, some people experience a type of rejection, and their responses are compared with those
of people who do not experience rejection.
The first method (“group rejection”) involves
some participants being told that no one in a group
wanted to work with them, whereas others are told
everyone wanted to work with them. In a second
method (“lonely future”), some participants receive
false feedback that they have a personality type in
which they can expect to end up alone later in life,
whereas others are told they can expect a future
filled with social acceptance or negative events
unrelated to their social relationships. A third